Thursday, August 15, 2013

Affirming Love - Remaining True to Biblical Revelantion Concerning Homosexuality while Remaining Faithful to Love of Neighbor, by Rob Wootton

(This is an edited excerpt from a longer piece, titled, "Affirming Love" which can be downloaded in full here.)

How do I remain true to the biblical revelation concerning homosexuality and at the same time remain faithful to the call to love my neighbor?

This is not asking the question, are homosexual acts sinful? The bible is clear that they are. If you disagree I understand and respect your position. I will ask that you continue reading as I hope to present a position that encourages a loving response to a polarizing issue

This is not asking how people become homosexual. There are many factors that contribute to someone identifying himself or herself as a homosexual; psychobiological (first sexual experience), psychological (parental influences / relationships), temperament (gender non-conformity), sexual abuse, sociological/cultural, and hearts bent by sin. I must also mention the possibility of a physiological component. Current research hints at this possibility. But this does not undermine my understanding of the biblical text concerning homosexuality. There are many physiological factors that affect the way that we interact with the world and are tempted by sin; the predilection to addiction is a similar corollary. If at some time in the future it were proven that there are indeed physiological factors that contribute to a homosexual orientation, I would then point to a fallen world that affects our bodies, even from conception on, as well as our actions. “What is does not always tell us what ought to be.”

This is not asking the question of sexual orientation. Is there such a category? Today’s popular western, political culture often assumes that there is. As one who is a part of the orthodox Christian community, I have to disagree. I believe that homosexuality in practice, behavior, or as an identity is not what God intended for the best part of his creation. Yet I also need to acknowledge that there are many millions of people who believe that their identity is first homosexual. It is an identity that is pushed upon them by the fall, by a fallen creation, and by the sin of fallen people, and at the same time it is an identity that they choose. So if there is both a physiological cause and an environmental cause, and if these two are combined in such a way that the biological predilections towards homosexual behavior are encouraged either by positive reinforcement, (such as in a culture where it is viewed as an acceptable option) or negatively, (through abuse or neglect), then it is clear that there are those that are clearly oriented towards the same sex. This being true, then I would have to understand that for many, perhaps most, it is not simply a choice. Homosexuals do then make fallen choices based upon how they have been shaped by the fallen state of this world. The same is true for all people in regards to any other fallen choice. We are all affected by both the fallenness of this world and we all make choices to live in out fallenness.

This is not asking the question on what my position should be concerning same-sex civil unions or gay marriage. I believe marriage between one man and one woman to be a creational norm that is assumed and explicitly and implicitly defended throughout all of scripture. The result of this fallen world is confusion about these truths. This confusion is not a sufficient reason for me to remain quiet concerning the damaging affects of a culture that permits, allows, or condones, homosexual marriage. 

Thus, I believe the church should stand publicly before government and culture for the truth of scripture not simply because it is what I believe the bible teaches but because I believe that these truths concerning how we should live are for the good of all. Contrary to the opinion of those who see gay marriage as a way to strengthen the institution of marriage, I hold that only heterosexual marriage supports the common good.

This is also not asking whether change is possible. In one respect this is not the right question. The hope of someone with homosexual tendencies or who has lived a homosexual lifestyle, and who desires to change, is not that they will one day find that all their homosexual tendencies will disappear and they will live happily ever after in a heterosexual marriage. This can and does happen, but the hope is that through ongoing repentance all of their temptations will come under the lordship of Jesus Christ. It is then that the homosexual can say no when faced with any temptation. The process of healing from any besetting sin requires a commitment to the normal means of grace, as well as individual counseling within the context of a local church. This is the call to any Christian, homosexual or not, who desires change. 

This is also not asking the question should an unrepentive homosexual be allowed to join the church or similarly should an unrepentive homosexual who is also already a member of a church come under church discipline. Just as a church should not allow an unrepentive sex addict or someone who is continually engaging in premarital sex without any sign of repentance to join the church, a church should not allow an unrepentive homosexual to join either, no matter how convinced they are that the bible does not condemn homosexuality. In the same fashion a current member who engages in homosexual behavior and exhibits no signs of repentance should come under the discipline of the church. However, judging repentance is a difficult process, which is given to the session of a local church and is in part what this discussion is about. But what about those oriented towards the same sex who do not recognize their need for repentance?

The question is: how do I, as one called to shepherd and protect the church, love both the homosexual who is my neighbor and the homosexual community?

Of course I understand that to love someone includes pushing them away from their sin and towards God. I must pray for the conviction of sin. Today’s culture of tolerance has all but excluded this capacity to love. Leviticus 19 has several insights on how to love my neighbors well, v. 17 reads, “you shall reason frankly with your neighbor, lest you incur sin because of him.” This makes clear my need to love in this way. Unfortunately, this line of thought has been used to attack the homosexual community and alienate them from the church. Though the elders should not admit the unrepentive homosexual as a member of the church, they should welcome them into the life of their worshiping community.

I must affirm both publicly and privately then what is good and right in the life of those who call themselves homosexual. Pointing to the imago dei[1] that is a part of everyone, no matter their sin, is one of today’s best apologetics. There is much that is good, even in a homosexual relationship. It is of course twisted and tainted by sin, but I can still legitimately affirm how homosexuals live out their imago dei. As I affirm what is right, I can at the same time love them well by “reasoning frankly” with them concerning their sin.

If I ought to affirm love and at the same time reveal the fallenness of homosexuality, how then do I enter into the homosexual culture in a way that is neither condemning nor approving?

This is the call for the church to reach the hurting and oppressed. “Christians must be exhorted to live not in fear, but with the kind of self-sacrificing love and acceptance that Jesus showed toward those regarded as social inferiors.”[2] This points to both the corporate (those who exhort) responsibility of the church to the individual homosexual, and to the homosexual community and the personal (those exhorted) responsibility of each church member to them as well.

For those that exhort, one responsibility is to preach and teach in such a way that invites from the word of God all sinners to bring their fears, hopes, and shame to the feet of the cross. This is preaching and teaching that brings the gospel to bear on all aspects of life including homosexuality. This hope of the gospel, from the word, through the power of the Spirit, even speaks into the heart of those who think that their homosexuality is immutable. This is the hope of a fuller life, available even to those that believe that they are given their homosexual orientation at birth and cannot change. Contrary to the view that sees orthodox Christianity as offering no morally responsible way for the homosexual to realize their sexual identity, orthodox Christianity offers the only way to know the fullness of what it means to be human. Not simply as a heterosexual, but as a child of God created in his image.

As those that exhort, we are to also provide as a ministry of the church, a way for the homosexual that desires change, to come out of the lifestyle. This would include counseling services, safe same-sex relationships, support groups, and even a place to live if needed. Those who exhort are also called to lead their congregation through the example of developing friendships with homosexual neighbors. This is done not for the purpose of ministry but for the sake of loving those who are in our community.

Love like this is costly. There is a cost in comfort and time; in fact, loving anyone is costly. The potential for heartbreak is also a significant cost to love and loving the homosexual may cost one’s reputation. Many who would agree with the biblical views here would never so identify themselves with a homosexual for the fear of being counted like them. There are many individual decisions that must be made as one enters into the gay community. For example, many would not have a problem with having a homosexual couple over for dinner, but would they go to their homosexual friend’s house to eat? One may go out to have a drink with their homosexual friends, but would they go out individually with their homosexual friend of the same sex, or would they go with them to a gay bar? Can they attend the civil union ceremony or marriage of a same-sex couple? 

These questions cannot be answered easily and they require wisdom and counsel. What is clear though is that if the loss of an idol of reputation or the fear of having my intentions misunderstood is the risk of engaging the homosexual community, then it is a cost that should be willingly paid. It is likely that as Jesus was counted as a sinner, for associating with sinners, that I will be as well. Some Christians, even those in my own circles, may suspect that I am soft on the sin of homosexuality because I am willing to love them where they are. I may be counted with the unrighteous because I am willing to love homosexuals in such a way that compels them to consider the claims of Jesus and the bible on even their supposedly immutable sexual orientation. This is all done for the sake of love, the love that I, the broken, abused, and outcast, have received freely from Christ. This I now offer freely with the hope that more and more of those created in the image of God will find their fullness and completion in the corporate worship of their creator.
Rob Wootton, (MDiv '08), is a TE in the PCA and serving as the Pastor in Residence at Grace Covenant Presbyterian inWilliamsburg, VA.  Rob previously served as a church planter in Seattle, WA, with Crosspoint Churches, (PCA).  Prior to seminary Rob taught high school art and was a Ruling Elder at Trinity Presbyterian in Norfolk, VA

[1] Latin for image of God, indicates a comprehensive theology of who we are as human beings and how we live out our likeness to God as what separates us from the rest of creation.  [2] Faithfulness to God’s Standards: The Lord’s Calling to Homosexuality-Inclined Christians, Committee of the Missouri Presbytery 1994, p40

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